Policy Implications

FAST is unusual in three ways: it is systemic rather than categorical, it respects the parent as a partner in prevention, and it is replicated, evaluated, and found to be successful in diverse communities. There are many short lists of exemplary research-based model programs being developed, published, and distributed. However, each list is focused on a specific social problem reflecting a separate funding stream and a distinct Federal Government agency. The focus on research-based best practices arises from a commitment to effective early interventions. However, the thinking of policymakers remains categorical rather than holistic and systemic. One community that chose to implement exemplary, research-based, recommended approaches to reduce delinquency, school violence, drug addiction, school truancy, and school failure could require five different programs for the same children. In contrast, the community could accomplish the same multiple categorical outcomes by putting significant resources into the FAST program, a single, positive intervention that builds stronger relationships with whole families and with the existing social structures of schools and communities.

FAST's approach to prevention uses a shared governance model in which each team includes a consumer parent, whose voice is a highly respected part of the solution. FAST is a parent-youth-professional partnership that builds positive protective factors for youth by strengthening ongoing, preexisting, informal, social relationships. The procedure is determined by the participants at a grassroots level, in their own language, style, preferences, and cultural forms. The power of the parent's voice extends to program planning and budget decisions; these crucial decisions shift gradually from the parent-professional partnership to the community of parents. FAST is popular with participants, who support increased programming available to all youth and families.

Finally, FAST is unusual in its 10-year history of commitment to the development of a living, rigorous, and hands-on structure for quality control of the replication and dissemination process. There is a respectful awareness that each community must adapt FAST to fit its own priorities, and this adaptation is accomplished during the three site visits by a certified FAST trainer. Evaluation of each new pilot site with process tools and quantitative outcomes allows routine review of what works and what does not work. Regular revision of FAST program manuals incorporates new lessons and new research to improve the program and the replication process over time. The decision to house the FAST National Training and Evaluation Center at a graduate school of family therapy in an academic institution reflects the program's ongoing commitment to what works now, rather than to what worked 10 years ago.

If FAST were available to every youth identified as at risk by each elementary school, it could act as a funnel or filter for stabilizing the immediate context—the family and the community—of youth who are at risk for violence and delinquency. After the 8- to 10-week program, more intensive interventions can be facilitated for youth who need family therapy, probation monitoring, intensive individual treatment, medication, or other services. The 8-10 weeks of FAST are shorter than either the waiting period to enter most treatment facilities or the trial period to determine the levels and effects of medication in reducing violent episodes.

Two statewide initiatives funding FAST dissemination and replication have taken place in Wisconsin (1990) and California (1995) and two more are beginning in Missouri and South Carolina. Each State initiative arose from a different type of policy: The Wisconsin initiative was legislative through one State agency (Substance Abuse Prevention in Education), the California initiative was administrative through one State agency (Office of Child Abuse Prevention in Human Services), the South Carolina initiative is offered as a technical assistance program for local schools by CIS with the State Department of Mental Health, and the Missouri initiative has a foundation grant to build statewide capacity to certify FAST trainers. Missouri has created a prevention system that assists communities and families to achieve better results for themselves. The Family Investment Trust, created by executive order of the Governor, is a unique partnership of seven State agency directors and eight private-sector business and civic leaders. The Family Investment Trust allocates $40 million annually to communities to improve child and family outcomes.

Effective research-based programs that can be shown to work across many diverse settings with low-income families, including parent partners, and that use a family therapy-based approach to early intervention with at-risk children are the most likely to achieve cross-categorical results. Together, the multilevel relationship-building components of FAST create an assets-based, comprehensive family, school, and community approach to helping youth avoid undesirable outcomes.

The costs for offering FAST to all families should not be borne by one group alone; they should be shared across education, child welfare, substance abuse prevention, mental health, public health, and community development agencies; asset building initiatives; and juvenile justice systems. Systemic approaches work and have impacts across funding categories. Until these approaches become policy realities rather than policy goals, professionals will struggle with piecemeal solutions for at-risk youth.

Families and Schools Together: Building Relationships Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  November 1999